ABC spearheaded the New Romantic movement that emerged in the UK in the early 80s, although its acceptance outside Europe was initially somewhat muted, presumably due the proponents' poofy dress code. Thus, while Lexicon of Love peaked at #1 in the UK charts, it only reached #24 in the US. A shame, really.
Produced by Trevor Horn of Buggles fame, ABC's Lexicon could best be described as a New Romantic boogie extravaganza. This was ABC's debut, and an ambitious and groundbreaking one at that. It's a concept album (a rarity in the 80s) dealing with that four-letter-word which wreaks havoc on the human condition. The subject matter is covered from various aspects, ranging from abject bitterness (All of my Heart, Poison Arrow) to euphoria (Look of Love, Show Me).
Lexicon caught my attention when it was released in '82, although I only recently acquired it on vinyl. I really liked Poison Arrow and All of my Heart, though the latter didn't get nearly as much airplay as it deserved. I had mixed feelings about Look of Love (Part one); while actually a terrific track, its supremely daft video (see below) grossly devalued it IMHO. See it and weep.
It's important to point out that Lexicon is not your typical 80s album; infact, it's a departure from the contemporary mainstream pop, as it exhibits a certain retro look and feel. The album is obviously steeped in the tradition of the Film Noir as evidenced in its artwork as well as the promotional videos for Poison Arrow and All of my Heart, which both feature femmes fatales. It's all so, um, theatrical 'n' stuff.
The instrumentation is bombastic, comprised of opulent orchestral backings courtesy of Anne Dudley accentuated by glockenspiel-esque synthies and brass. And yes, there's even a harp in there! 4ever 2gether and Date Stamp make prominent use of the then state of the art Fairlight CMI courtesy of J.J. Jeczalik. Both Dudley and Jeczalik would go on to found The Art of Noise.
The songwriting is top notch and remarkably sophisticated. The eloquent lyrics are equally honed to perfection ("right on the target but wide of the mark, what I thought was fire was only the spark"). They'd make the bloody Bard of Avon turn green with envy! Pop albums rarely strive for profundity, but Lexicon genuinely succeeds. Well ok, so I don't get some of the lyrics, but they sound profound. ;^)
The range of sentiments expressed by the album is overwhelming. Few pop albums from the 80s manage to move the listener physically and emotionally like Lexicon does; All of my Heart is guaranteed to bring on a tear or two, and if you can sit still through the infectious grooves of Poison Arrow and Tears are not Enough, you oughta have your pulse checked!
Lexicon's influence and popularity endure to this day, due largely to the outstanding quality of its compositions, but no doubt also due to its ephemeral subject matter. It's a keeper!